Double D Trouble (and no, not the bra cup size)

Most women will tell you that getting the correct bra size is vital for comfort but there are more important proportions you need to keep in balance to live a healthy life. Studies show that nutrition plays an important role in determining the onset and severity of depression, and this is where the trouble is. The connection between the two Ds, depression and deficiencies, is serious and it is time to take it seriously.

Depression is a serious mental health disorder and its prevalence is growing at an alarming rate. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it will be one of the leading contributors to the global burden of disease by 2020 and more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from it.  Just to put things into perspective; only three countries in the entire world have populations of over 300 million people, and the amount of people affected by depression is as good as the entire US population having the condition.

A lot of diets contain many processed and preserved foods that carry little to no nutritional value, and it is unsurprising that most mental health patients have severe nutrient deficiencies. Supplements can reduce these deficiencies, but they need to be taken in conjunction with healthy food that provides real nutrition. 

More than 2 billion people are affected by nutrient deficiencies and the most common of these deficiencies have links to depression. Curbing depression is vital, and knowing the right food to eat to beat the deficiencies is a step in the right direction.

The Vitamins                  

fruits and vegetables in different bowls on a wooden table

Vitamin D

Research shows that over 1 billion people have vitamin D deficiency and the problem with this deficiency is that the symptoms are very subtle and may be invisible for years. Every tissue in the body, including brain tissue, has vitamin D receptors, therefore, a lack of the vitamin has psychological consequences which may trigger depression.

Supplements are a great way to get vitamin D as it is difficult to obtain it directly from food. It is even more important for vegans to get the supplements because the common sources of the vitamin are all animal-based. Some healthy and unprocessed sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, fortified milk, fish, fish oils, and beef liver.

Vitamin B12

It is estimated that about 40% of the American population suffers from a vitamin B12 deficiency. This vitamin is vital for brain health, and even a small drop in its levels leads to mood disturbances. A lack of vitamin B12 disrupts cognitive function and one study showed that people with a deficiency of this vitamin are twice as likely to suffer from depression as those who do not. It is easy to see why the following quote is famous among people who study mental health:

“Lack of understanding of B12 is one of the greatest tragedies of modern medicine.”

Dr. James Greenblatt, Integrative Psychiatrist

Vitamin B12 deficiency is more common among the elderly (absorption of the vitamin decreases with age) and vegetarians (most sources are animal foods), and so supplements are inevitable in this case. For those without dietary restrictions, great sources of the vitamin include beef liver, lean beef steak, whole eggs, shellfish, and whole milk.

Vitamin A

This vitamin is commonly associated with poor eyesight and it is the leading cause of blindness in the world, however, it also has links to brain health. Vitamin A is responsible for maintaining healthy cell membranes, and a lack of the vitamin affects brain cells and immunity, which may result in disrupted cognitive function and depression.

While many people in developed countries have enough vitamin A in their diets, almost half of the population in developing countries has a deficiency of the vitamin. Great sources of vitamin A include dark green leafy vegetables, carrots, beef liver, fish liver oil, and sweet potatoes.

The Minerals

four pills on a plate with a fork and knife

Magnesium

Magnesium is a key mineral that is part of over 300 biochemical reactions in the body and it is unfortunate that close to 80% of the world population has a deficiency of this extremely important element. Magnesium is essential for any neurotransmitter activity and the nervous system cannot function properly without it. It is perhaps unsurprising that depression, a neuropsychiatric problem, is triggered by low levels of magnesium.  In order to increase magnesium intake, you should consider eating more dark chocolate, dark leafy green vegetables, nuts (especially almonds), bananas, and whole grains.

Calcium

Without calcium, our nerves will be unable to function because the mineral is essential in every cell. Calcium deficiency is more common among women, but according to global estimates, close to 3.5 billion people are at risk of calcium deficiency. The amount of calcium available in the blood is well-regulated and any excess is stored in the bones, however, when the blood calcium levels decrease, calcium is released from the bones and this is why osteoporosis is common.

Besides its role in reducing the chances of getting osteoporosis, calcium is also a natural sedative that relaxes and calms the body, hence a lack of calcium results in poor mood and this has a direct link to depression. To increase calcium intake, some great foods to include in your diet include dark green vegetables, dairy products, and boned fish.

Iron

Not only is iron vital for oxygenation, but it is also responsible for producing energy in the brain and for synthesizing neurotransmitters.  Without iron, cognitive function is hindered and it is common for an iron deficiency to cause restlessness, irritability, poor concentration anxiety, and ultimately, depression. Iron deficiency is the most common type of deficiency worldwide, affecting more than a third of the world population.

Too much iron is harmful and it is recommended that iron is sourced from food as taking iron supplements can result in consuming too much of the mineral. A great idea is to eat iron-rich foods together with foods that are high in vitamin C because the vitamin helps with the absorption of the mineral. Foods that are rich in iron include red meat, beef liver, shellfish, kidney beans, seeds, kale, spinach, broccoli, and spirulina.

 Iodine

Iodine deficiency affects close to 2 billion people worldwide and is one of the key deficiencies that cause depression. Iodine is responsible for producing thyroid hormones which play an important role in mental health and the provision of energy for the metabolism of cerebral cells. A lack of iodine causes brain damage and inhibits brain development and this is linked to anxiety and depression.

Although it may come as a surprise that iodine deficiency is so high when iodized salt is now so common, research has shown that most iodized salt brands have iodine levels that are lower than is required by the body. A great way to get the required dietary amount of the mineral is to eat iodine-rich foods which include fish, eggs, dairy products, and seaweed.

There is such a thing as a good deficiency

yoga man buddha surrounded by junk food

It is not enough to address the issue of deficiencies without looking at those foods that may actually contribute to depression. There are some great deficiencies you should have if you are going to curb depression. Make sure you have a high deficiency in any foods that are high in sodium, sugar, hydrogenated oils, and trans fats, and cut out any processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and excessive alcohol and caffeine. With the right kind of diet, it is possible to heal your mind and avoid the double D trouble.

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